Monday, April 6, 2009

You know it's April in India when...'re really excited about the weather forecast because it's only going to be 95 tomorrow. (Hey, it's a lot cooler than today, when it was 110!)

I'm slightly jealous of the snow in Oberlin. Only a little bit though--the heat is growing on me.

Religious Tolerance

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. For the first time all semester (I know, I'm a bad person!), I managed to find a church to go to. I needed it; the Gospel was the wrong reading (You don't read the Passion from Mark on Palm Sunday!), the songs were horribly cheesy, and the words were just different enough that I couldn't recite along, yet coming out of mass I had the same feeling that I always have after going to church: a kind of inner peace, and fellowship with the people around you. It doesn't matter that we came from different countries and backgrounds, or that their version of Catholicism was completely different from my version. For an hour, we sat together on the floor and worshiped, together despite our complete separateness. To me, that's one of the most powerful things about religion--it's power to bring people together and remind us that we're not alone.

One of my favorite things about India is how present God is everywhere. Religion is a huge part of people's lives, and not like it is in the US, where we go to church and then forget about it for the rest of the week. One of the first questions we're asked is what religion we are, and then a conversation invariable ensues about the similarities and differences between Hinduism and Christianity, and how there is really only one God. I have a friend here who grew up Hindu, but now proclaims his atheism, since he sees Hinduism as a way of perpetrating the caste system and he doesn't agree with yet. And yet, after I'd known him about a week and he had continued telling me about how he doesn't believe in God, he turns to me and says, "I find God in other people, and I try to show it by helping them" (ok, maybe in slightly more stilted English than that). Well...yeah...that's God. Actually, that's religion at it's best, without whatever political baggage it carries, which is what he disagrees with. The same friend wants me to tell him stories from the Bible, yet more proof of the complete religious tolerance that's present here. There is no tension between religions (well, among individuals, speak to the religions as entities and you'll find a change--take the violence in Ayodha several years ago, where Hindus attacked the mosque that was covering Rama's birthplace) and there tends to be a widespread acceptance that God is God, it is only how one chooses to worship and acknowledge the Divine that differs.

In the church I went to last Sunday St. John and Mary were both decorated like the deities in a Hindu Temple would be, with clothes and flowers and flashing lights. And a few nights ago I saw a deity being brought on procession, with music and parades--much the way that my church used to have a parade for St. Anthony on his feast day every year, when we would carry him around the block, with the whole congregation following and singing. Maybe the two aren't as different as they might seem.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I haven't updated in a while. I guess it's been a combination of no Internet and life settling down to something resembling normal. If normal is temperatures of around 105 degrees and constant power outages and continuing to get ripped off everywhere we go...

Last night I went outside to talk to a friend on the phone. When I got back, all of my friends were giving me strange looks, and kind of glancing at each other. One of them asked me if I was all right, and then didn't answer when I asked why they would possibly be asking me that (I had been talking to an Indian friend who's giving me his computer for a month). It wasn't until about 45 minutes later that I went online and heard about what happened in Binghamton. Apparently they had heard while I was outside and thought I was getting a call from someone at home.

I think what really made it hit home for me was looking at the news pictures of the Civic Association building where the shootings occurred. OK, anything happening in Binghamton is bad enough, but I parked in that parking lot every week for my violin lesson in high school. My violin teacher lives right across the street. And sometimes I go to Trinity church right next door in the other direction. This wasn't just something that happened somewhere that I was kind of familiar with, but in an area that I've driven and spent time in quite regularly since I was a teenager. In a way, the events of yesterday hit me harder than 9/11 did. Maybe because I'm older and can realize what it means better, but also simply because it was so close to home.

Everyone I know is okay (I called my mom and made her stay on the phone until she had found one of her friends--since he goes to Trinity and he was the one person I could imagine being in the area). But that doesn't really make it a lot better. I keep thinking about everyone who was killed or injured and wishing I could do something besides pray for them, which doesn't seem to be quite helpful enough. I wish I was home, although it's not like I would be doing anything more there than I am here. It made me want to tell everyone I know that I love them--that they are important to me--just in case I don't see them again. Which is silly.

I think what also hit me was the fact that I'm in India, which everyone told me would be more dangerous than home. Everyone, from my father to my advisor at Oberlin, told me that I should reconsider going to India after the bombings in Mumbai in November. And yet, I've ended up feeling safer here than many cities in the US. And look, I could have stayed home in Vestal and been more likely to be in danger. I don't if that should just persuade me that nowhere is safe and turn me into a huge pessimist, or if I should instead find some perverse comfort in the idea. I guess people are just people--which is what I kept trying to tell my dad before I left. Some people do awful things, for whatever reason. Most people, whether it be in Hyderabad or Vestal, are just people--we all have our issues, our strengths, and our weaknesses, but that doesn't make the people in any one place any more or less likely to snap.

So I guess the moral of the story is to be careful wherever you go (and maybe the US can take advantage of some of the security measures India has implemented in public places). And to put your trust in people instead of countries or states, who do, for the most part, continue to care for and love each other. Which is cheesy, but I can't help feeling a little bit true.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Someone left a comment on my blog about the security in 5 star hotels and how people were starting to complain because they found it intrusive and that it took away from the hospitality of the hotels.

It made me think about the security in India. It's not just something that's found in fancy hotels--almost any public store, restaurant, or even park or monument has metal detectors, guards, and mandatory bag and body checks before you go in. Sure, it can get a little tedious at times, and even slightly intrusive (as yet another female guard pats me down to make sure I'm not hiding anything in my bra), but it's also reassuring, especially after what happened in Mumbai. I'm sorry, but having to wait five minutes in a security line is a lot better than dying in a bomb blast.

The security measures also show yet another way in which men and women are treated differently. Men are asked to go through the metal detector and then are checked right after they pass through the door by the guards there. Women, on the other hand, sometimes don't even have to go through the main door. Instead, we are ushered into this little curtained enclosure where a female guard goes through our bag (most of them just check inside it, but sometimes you have to turn your cell phones off, etc.) and then we're searched there. God forbid any man should see a woman being searched with a hand held metal detector--they might not be able to restrain themselves! I guess I do appreciate the privacy, but in that case men should have their own little space too--I'm sure it's just as embarrassing for them. Or maybe this country with it's constant insistence on differentiating between the genders is just starting to get on my nerves., off to Mysore for the weekend with CIEE!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sometimes when I catch a guy staring at me I have to fight the urge to make a funny face at them.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What exactly constitutes a "weekend on the beach"

Last week a bunch of my friends and I went to Gokarna, a small beach town in the neighboring state of Karnataka. It was beautiful and idyllic...there was everything you could want in a beach, including cows and stray dogs wandering around...

However, I think that I have a much different definition of a beach vacation than the people I was with. When I say I'm going to the beach, I mean that I'm going to lay in the sun reading a book until I get hot, when I'm going to jump in the water. Maybe I'll take a stroll along the ocean, and I'm more than happy to walk on the beach after sunset and look at the many stars (I don't think I've ever seen that many stars in my life! And all the constellations are flipped on their sides and in different places than they are at home, making it a whole new sky). My friends however, decided that what would be a really good thing to do would be to scale cliffs in an attempt to find the next beach over. Fun, but probably not something to be done in shower flip flops, a bathing suit, and a silk sarong.

Gokarna is apparently where all the European hippy couples go...the beaches were covered in them. It was a strange mix of Indian and western; mixing with all the naked Europeans sunbathing were hordes of Indian men (who apparently swim in nothing but their underwear, which are even briefer than briefs in the US) and Indian women playing in the water in their full salwar suits. Which again made me cringe at the double standard between the genders (It's okay for men to go out wearing next to nothing--and certainly I saw more than I ever wanted to see!, but women better stay completely covered, even in the ocean...)

The food was also amazing. It was a welcome respite from Indian food, as I feasted on hummus and homemade veggie burgers and fresh seafood. I did happen to get a fish worthy of my father--it came with the head and the tail still attached, and my friends laughed at me as I said something along the lines of, "I can't eat that, it has a face!" But one of them did cut the head off for me and put it on his plate where it wasn't starting at me for the whole meal. It's also hard to complain about anything you're eating when the view looks like this...

In other news, summer has officially started and it just keeps getting hotter and hotter, my sunburn is peeling and I look kind of disgusting, and I have two presentations next week (one on Frankenstein and women's literature and one on Roald Dahl and the definition of children's literature). My computer has a giant crack across the screen, and I'm starting to be able to pick up parts of conversations in Hindi. Life keeps going on and it's already almost March. But whenever life gets too hectic, I can always remember sunsets on the beach, and hopefully remember to slow down and enjoy whatever comes to me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Surrendering to India

Surrender. It’s an interesting concept, and one that most often has connotations of giving in to an enemy or having to do something you don’t want to do. But it can also mean giving yourself up, completely and utterly, for better or worse. And it doesn’t always have bad results.

I’m in the middle of reading the novel Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s incredibly rich and beautiful and Roberts is able to capture just how I feel about India. Anyways, the main character (based at least partly on Roberts’ real experiences), finds himself in India, most specifically Bombay (now Mumbai, but this was before the name was changed). He talks about his transition into Indian society, and how the advice he was given was to surrender, to whatever came and in whatever form.

It sounds silly, but I feel like he has a point. We, as American students, are never going to be able to assimilate into Indian culture. However, we can experience it, but it requires some loss of control; you have to let yourself be swept along with it. And, eventually, India will assimilate you instead of the other way around—the country has a way of taking everything inside of itself and making it especially Indian, no matter what the origins. Only here could centuries old temples exist side by side with buildings built by the British Empire and modern high rises that could compete with any buildings in the U.S. stand next to slums, where the standard of living has been the same for hundreds of years.

So that’s what I’ve tried to do—let myself be swept along with the tide of Indian life. However, I’ve found that this mindset conflicts with other people’s idea of what travel, or life should be. Take our trip to Hampi for example. The trip was amazing, and Hampi was beautiful, but I got tired of being surrounded by Americans all the time. How can we really learn or experience India if we stay in our little western bubble, even while traveling?

OK, so I did some things that the other people in my group probably thought was stupid. But I had more fun than I’ve had all semester. And I feel like I’ve learned more about the “real” India. Which is something that you won’t get if you don’t take chances and go out of your comfort zone. (And by going out of your comfort zone, I don’t mean doing anything extremely dangerous like wandering around a city late at night by yourself…I mean eating unfamiliar foods that may or may not make you sick, or starting a conversation with the homeless man who lives in the abandoned temple, or making friends with people in the train station by all taking pictures of each other with your camera, or wandering down a path until you reach one of the most breathtaking views you’ve ever seen.) I had more adventures than the rest of the group did…and better stories to tell.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This weekend me and three of my friends went to Hampi, the city where Hanuman was born. The city is beautiful. And breathtaking, And powerful. I loved it. I loved the mountain views, and the ancient temples, and even the European hippies that are swarming around. And I love the fact that I had interesting things happen to me, without even really trying.

So…what happened? Well, let’s see. It all started when our train got in at 5:30AM. Our rickshaw driver decided that we really needed to go to the “sunrise place.” So he drives up these really steep hills, and finally he stops in front of a huge pile of rocks. It’s dark and we’re tired, since we spent the night on a train, but we stumble out of the rickshaw and follow him. He leads us up stairs and around rocks, and eventually to this old abandoned temple on top of a hill. We sit there and I see one of the best sunrises in my life. The view was fantastic.

Afterwards, we look over, and there are two monkeys, just staring at us. They show no fear of us at all. In fact, one grabbed the strap to my huge backpacking bag and tries to drag it off. I had my foot on the strap so he couldn’t take it anywhere, but it was really funny to watch him tug at it. Monkeys are stronger than they look. There were some Russian tourists there as well; they have food and they start feeding the monkeys. One of them gave me some grapes, and a baby monkey ate out of my hand. Watching the old Russian ladies with the monkeys was hilarious; they were really afraid of them, so they’d be opening a pack of nuts or something and then a monkey would come up and they would shriek and drop it and the monkey would take the whole plastic package. And then the monkey would figure out how to open it (and the fact that plastic is yucky…).

I think my first real adventure happened when I decided not to climb the steps to a temple. I’m not a big steps person. So, while waiting for my group to come back (and at this point, I would like to mention that there were people around, most of whom were Europeans and that Hampi is very touristy and very safe—just for any parents who might be reading this), I decide to walk around a little by myself. I end up stumbling on this homeless man who was sleeping outside one of the temple ruins. I was going to leave, but he beckons me over and puts down a rug for me to sit on, and ends up reading my palm and talking to me about religion and reincarnation for 45 minutes. (Apparently I have been given a gift from God, I am slow to have a physical relationship with anyone, I will get married but then we’ll start fighting and I’ll get divorced and remarry again, and I’ll have four kids.) In my next life, I’m apparently going to be someone like George Bush, who he really admired—I really hope not. This guy, on the other hand, will be reborn as a yogi and that will be his last life. Then he’ll go up to heaven.

So, I finally leave and go back down the path to where I left my group, but they’re not there. And there’s no cell phone service. After getting a little worried, I decide that the only thing to do is go up the steps that they were climbing the last time I see them. They eventually lead me to this old abandoned temple in the jungle, with more steps up this mountain. I hear people shouting my name and telling me to come up, so I start climbing. I end up in this watchtower with the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life.

I would have been fine just sitting there for hours. There’s service up on the mountain though, and I get a call from my friends, who followed another path up the mountain and are on another path. We eventually all meet up—and they yell at me for wandering (I’m not the one who went up the mountain—at least not until I heard their voices telling me too! I stayed right off the path in plain sight!)
The next day we went to the birthplace of Hanuman, otherwise known as the monkey temple (and it’s crawling with monkeys…). We didn’t eat breakfast before we left, and again, there were hundreds of steps to climb up. And I immediately got really dizzy. So I stayed at the bottom (after promising not to wander again). I went to the chai stall at the bottom of the hill and bought some hot chai, and the people invited me into their home (also known as the chai lean-to) and I sat there and drank chai and watched them get ready for their day. After some sweet tea, I felt better and decided to climb some stairs. I took a break part way up and was just sitting, staring out at the view and thinking/meditating/praying. This Indian family walks down the steps past me, gives me the dirtiest look ever, and starts muttering in whatever language they speak. The only word I understood was “opium,” which was repeated over and over again. I am not an opium user, I promise. So, I decide I should start moving again, but soon the view is too tempting and I stop again and sit on the railing (not a real railing, a cement barrier thing…) and stare at the view. Soon I feel these little hands on my back…one of the baby monkeys had decided it would be really fun to climb on my back and give me a hug. He was really cute, but I still screamed. I think I scared him more than he scared me. By the time my group walked back down the stairs and met me, I was laughing hysterically and talking to the monkeys…people probably thought I really was a drug addict.

We also made friends with a huge family we met in the train station. We didn’t speak the same language, but it’s amazing how easy it is to break the ice. We showed them our jewelry (they laughed because my fingers are huge and none of my rings fit them) and American money, they were amazed at our sunburns and bug bites, and I showed them how to use my camera. In return, they handed us their children to hold, approved of the double piercings in my ears but told us we should get our noses pierced, and gave us bindis and bought us flowers to put in our hair.

They were going to Hubli to “see God,” and we bonded over religious icons (I showed them my St. Christopher necklace and my cross anklet and one of the boys showed me his necklace with Arjuna on it). They figured out I was Christian and kept saying, “Jesu Christe!” and making the sign of the cross, and I kept saying, “Arjuna! Hanuman!” It was fun.

I had so much fun, and I feel like I learned more from this trip than I have from my semester so far. It was the first time I’ve had the chance to really interact with Indians—besides my professors and classmates. This, more than my experiences wandering around with other Americans, has taught me about “real life India”—a phrase that tends to get thrown around here a lot. I feel like although I am an outsider here, India will learn to accept me. As long as I make an effort to accept it. And my goal is to try, whether this be by going out of my comfort zone in talking to people or going places without a protective group of Americans surrounding me.

(Also, for more pictures:,%20India/Hello%20from%20Hyderabad.html Then click the two Hampi albums.)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The ubiquitous "I'm a woman" post I feel like this is really obvious, but I'm getting annoyed with being a girl right now. Even the some of the other guys on the program feel like they need to treat me differently. It's actually not so bad, but there have been a few things lately that are just combining to make me mad.

First of all, if you go somewhere with only other girls, rickshaw drivers think that it's okay to rip you off. A lot. The fact that we're white and don't speak any Indian language probably doesn't help at all, but I think we tend to get treated better when there is a guy in the group. I've had three bad experiences in a row--including one driver who got really angry and started shouting and sticking his finger in my friend's face when we wouldn't pay him more than the agreed upon price. Then he started following us into the university...the wrong gate, by the way, since he refused to take us to the main gate where we had asked him to take us.

My gender is also proving to be a hindrance when it comes to making friends. In the States, I am much more likely to go up to a strange guy and be friendly than a girl. It's not that I'm flirting or anything or looking for anything more than a friend, that's just who I am. Girls intimidate me. But here I can't do that. The guys who are willing to talk to me are the creepy ones. There's that, and then there's the fact that even the other American guys on the program don't really like to go out with us--according to my one friend he feels like he has to protect us when we go out, and it's tiring. He also won't let us hang out with him and his Indian friends because then the girls in that group wouldn't like him as much (apparently a lot of Indian girls see white girls as competition).

And then of course there's all the guys in the street who stare at us as we pass in the rickshaw or come up to us and ask to take pictures with us. It gets a little tiring after a while.

Also, I would like to wear a tank top out of the hostel. I changed into a ribbed tank top this evening, just to wear around, and realized that for the first time I was wearing an outfit that I would probably wear at home.

Despite my being fed up with the entire male population right now, India is still good. I know something that sounds kind of like a song on the sitar, and Hindi is starting to differentiate itself into words--I can't understand what the words are, but I least I can recognize them. Also, I've decided to apply for publishing internships this summer. I probably won't get any of them (I'm applying to all the big ones because they're the ones that pay), but at least I'll feel like I'm doing something. So I've been slowly killing myself over revising my resume and writing cover letters.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I forgot... mention my sitar! It's beautiful. And very difficult. I keep playing it like I would hold/play a guitar or horizontal violin. And that's very not right. The teacher speaks no English except to say, "No, that's wrong," or, "very good." Needless to say, there are more of the first. But I've only had one class, so hopefully I will learn.

Also, I'm planning on taking kathak dance, although I've missed both classes so because it overlapped with sitar and the other because I was sick (yes, India finally caught up with me...I was doing so well too!). It involves a lot of stamping and percussive sounds with your feet, and you get to wear really pretty outfits. I'm excited. And I have to get my friends to catch me up to speed.

There's also a meditation class I'm thinking about taking. The only thing is, it's back to back with one of my other classes, and it's not that appealing considering 3/4 of my group is taking it, I can meditate on my own (but will I?), and while we're also reading a sacred text, I've already read a lot of them, so I don't really feel the need to. Oh well, I feel like I should take it, so I'll see how the times line up.

Emily's boring life

I feel like I haven't written anything in a while, so it's time for another entry. But, the problem is, life has finally settled down and I have less interesting things to say. So, here's some snippets of what I do every day here.

1) Classes. These are great, especially now that scheduling has stopped and everything is set in stone (although my roommate just had her professor come up to her and ask if it was okay if her class met on Saturday mornings...umm, no?). I'm taking:
- Basic Hindi: All I can say is that at least the Greek letters are somewhat familiar, and there aren't 44 of them. But there's only four people in my class, which is nice.
- Women Writing, Writing Women: A seminar class based around women's literature. We all basically get to pick our own texts to present, and then have a class based discussion around it. Also, apparently the professor knows Paula Richman, my Hinduism professor back at Oberlin. It's a really small class, about half Americans and half Indians, which gives a really interesting perspective on all of the women's views we discuss.
- Children's Literature: My homework is to read a different kid's book every week. It's great. A lot of them are really random books that I didn't realize that anyone else had ever Green Knowe and What Katy Did. Right now we're reading fairy tales...I never realized how depressing the original "Little Mermaid" is! She dies and turns into sea foam because she doesn't have a soul. Seriously? Also, I'm the only American in the class, which is fun. There's only 5 of us, so we all cram into the professor's little tiny office and do things like watch horrible BBC adaptations of "The Snow Queen."
- Indian Philosophy: This is probably my least favorite class. It's a two hour lecture on philosophy. Which could be really interesting, after all, I'm a religion major, but the professor is really boring and manages to not really say anything in 2 hours and he's pretty hard to understand and last class I managed to get spit on by him constantly. It makes me miss David Kamitsuka and MRT.

2) People. The people here are amazing. I've made a lot of friends, and one of my favorite things to do is hang out on the balcony in the evenings. We bring out a guitar and hold sing-a-longs, or we just sit out there and talk for hours. Also, there's always someone to go on adventures with. Which leads me to my next topic...

3) Travel. I haven't gotten the chance to do this yet. We were planning a trip for this weekend, but we couldn't get train tickets because it's a holiday and everyone is traveling. So we pushed that trip back and now I'm in the midst of planning two to Hampi (the home of Hanuman and the monkey people in the Ramayana), and the other to Gokarna (think hippies and beaches). It's great how easy it is to travel here...we paid 30$ for 11 hour, round trip train tickets in kind of the equivalent to business class, and we're expecting to pay about 4$ a night, if that, for our hotels while we're there.

All in all, I'm quite enjoying myself here. There are definitely the downsides, like the fact that getting to and from anywhere involves biking up the huge hill of doom, and the fact that I keep getting ripped off by rickshaw drivers (hint: if you don't want to get cheated quite as badly, go with a guy). However, there are now hot showers in the dorms, I'm actually getting muscles in my legs, and even the heat doesn't really bother fact, this is the perfect climate (talk to me again in April...I might have changed my mind).

Maybe soon I'll have something more exciting to tell y'all.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

the high society of Hyderabad

Last night I tagged along to a free concert. It was a French quartet that played jazz/gypsy folk music. They were really amazing, and it was a great experience, albeit very strange. We got there, dressed in jeans and t-shirts, expecting it to be just a concert--the tickets were free, so we didn't think it would be a big deal. When we showed up, however, it was at the swankiest hotel in Hyderabad, and people were dressed, well, more formally than jeans. It was put on by the Alliance Francaise in Hyderabad, so everyone was speaking French and milling around, partaking of the free bar. It was just so strange! I felt like I was in Europe, at a formal outdoor concert.

Anyways, first there was this concert. Then we got invited to the inaugural ball for Obama that is taking place in Hyderabad, also at the same hotel (called the Taj). It's so strange to contrast the day to day life in India that we see in the university and the city with the rich, upper crust society that we are automatically invited into because of the color of our skin.

Fusion Music

One of the first nights we were here, we were all able to see a fusion music concert. One of the girls in the program apparently was able to record some of it, so I'm posting it here. It was incredible...the musicians took eastern instruments like the tabla and sitar and combined them with western instruments to make their own unique sound. Notice that the violin has 5 strings and the guitar is held horizontally across the lap of the musician playing it.

Monuments and Haunted Houses

Despite our constant grouchings of "we're tired...we just want to stay in for a day," we seem to find something interesting to do almost every day. This past Thursday was a Muslim holiday, meaning that all classes were cancelled, so of course we decided that this was the sort of opportunity that couldn't be passed up. And we went on a journey into the city, always an adventure.

First there was the bus ride. At this point, it was just me and three of my friends, all of whom are guys. This served to be kind of a problem, since women have to sit in the front of the bus, while men go in the back. When the bus stops aren't labeled and the buses are as full as Indian buses tend to get, its always an adventure trying to make sure that everyone manages to get off at the same spot. Luckily, the ticket collector took pity on our obvious ignorance of the Indian bus system, and told us where to get off. Then, we wandered down this little alley way, full of Indians (what street isn't?) who stared at us...apparently they don't get too many white people looking for the train station. The train also has ladies and men's cars, although there are also "general" cars for families, so I didn't have to go off by myself. The train is also a lot better labeled and less crowded...and we each only spent 4 rupees (about 8 cents) on a ticket for what ended up to be about a 35 minute ride.

We got off the train, but the adventure was not yet over; we had to take a rickshaw to the public gardens--our final destination. Haggling with rickshaw drivers is always an adventure (most of the time I just let other people do it for me), and I don't think I've ever been on a ride where the driver doesn't take us to the wrong place or ask us for more money when the ride is over. This time, however, after a little bargaining, we ended up where we wanted to be. And we found out that you can fit four adults into a least, if someone is willing to sit on everyone else's laps...

The rest of the day pretty much consisted of wandering around. We found some pretty gardens and monuments (see my facebook albums for some photographic evidence), and eventually met up with a bunch of other friends for lunch. The thing about traveling with too many people, is that it's too many people. It's hard enough to move about inconspicuously when there's four of you, and almost impossible when it's 10. Also, everyone tends to have different ideas about what they want to do and get out of a trip. Anyways, for whatever reason, after lunch and a little wandering around "Buddha Lake" (a large lake with a statue of Buddha in the middle, like the Statue of Liberty), a few of us split up and went wandering again.

We managed to find more monuments, blah blah blah...and then two of our group decided they wanted to go to an amusement park (which looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland). Me and my one other friend were too tired, so we ended up going to get coffee and cookies at the Imax theatre, on the suggestion of Mr. Das (who runs the guest house we live in). We get into the theatre, and it's this tremendous mall, a completely different dimension from the India that we had just walked out of. We ended up going on this 4-D adventure ride, which was like an underwater ride where dinosaurs jumped out of us (ok, it sounds cheesy, but it was actually really fun).

The other two people in our group joined us at this point, and we decided to go to a haunted house (really...of all things to find inside of an imax theater...). I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I've never really been in one before, and I may have gotten a little freaked out. First there was my friend behind me (who was probably the most scared of any of us), who grabbed the back of my shirt. I thought he was someone who worked there and started hitting him on the head--and of course he didn't say anything to disprove my idea, so Rebecca (who also goes to Oberlin, by the way) keeps saying, "It's only us Emily, it's okay." Then there was the guy in bed who kept chasing me...he was like chained to a metal bed and was making it jump up and down. He did it a few times, and I thought he was done, but then he started coming after me. Regardless to say, I spent most of the time clutching at the person next to me and trying to use him to block me from the scary things. When we finally all spilled out the door into the mall again, all of the Indian people just look at us and start laughing hysterically. It was quite amusing. Anyways, I'm all done with haunted houses.

After that little adventure we went to the Birla Mandir temple, one of the main Hindu temples in Hyderabad. It was amazing. We went at sunset, and the temple looks down over the entire city. And it was this huge labyrinth of marble paths and shrines that we wandered around barefoot. It was a great ending to the day. It was fascinating to me that the temple had plaques that were dedicated to different religions--like Christianity, Judaism, and Confucianism. I can think of no other religion that demonstrates the same, not only tolerance, but respect for and acceptance of other religions that Hinduism does.

Then we went out to eat, and finished the day off by having dessert (I had the best brownie ever) and having a huge discussion about religion and it's place in environmental type of conversation. By the time we got home it was about midnight, and we still had to ride our bikes the two miles from the main gate where the rickshaw dropped us off to our hostel...not something that I would ever do alone, by the way, but since I was with two other guys, I figured I was okay. And the only noises we heard besides the numerous guards wandering around were of this huge pack of monkeys that sounded like they might have liked to eat us.

Okay, so this was a really in depth description of a day. It's just that that day encapsulated India so well for me. India is having adventures and wandering around and stumbling on the most beautiful things you've ever imagined. It's eating good food and having deep conversations with people. It's getting ripped off by rickshaw drivers and squeezing on to city buses surrounded by more people than you can imagine. I think I'm in love.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

and life goes on...

I'm sitting on the grass outside of the library at the University. It's the second day of class, and a bunch of us are here waiting for it to be time to go to a talk about the different kinds of cultural activities we can do (i.e. drumming, sitar, dancing, etc.).

We still don't have internet, so it's been a while since I've been able to update. Eventually my plan is to copy a lot of what I've been writing in my journal and to put it in here, but for now I'll just tell you that I'm still alive and well.

Scheduling here is the most chaotic process ever, at least to an outsider. The class times are extremely fluid, and often a class will meet at 3 different times during the week. Then, just when you think you have it all figured out, the professors decide that they would like the time to be at some other time, and everything has to be figured out all over again. There is no master list of classes, and no class limits, and everyone just shows up and hopes for the best. I've already missed one class because I thought it met from 3-5, but when I showed up I realized that they had changed the time from 2:15-4:15. Oops.

You know you're in India when:
The cars sing when they're put in reverse
You're walking home from class and realize that you're trapped between a herd of cows and a bright green dump truck filled to the brim with people.

I don't quite have a routine yet, but things seem to be calming down a little. I'm settling down and making friends. We've gone to an open air market, and also to a planetarium/children's museum. The whole thing was like something out of Lost in Space...there were great special effects from the 70s and a whole room full of an old computer. However, even though the graphics of the planetarium seemed to be decades old (and the style was quite cheesy as well, although that might be simply a symptom of Indian culture), I did notice that they carefully refrained from calling Pluto a planet. Then after that, we got into a big discussion about the meaning of life and where we fit into the cosmos. Yep, I've met other philosophy/religion nerds.

Anyways, it's time for me to start on the way to our next event. Hopefully I'll have time to update a little more extensively soon.